You just got stuck with managing your org's website...now what?

The following is a guest post by super crazy awesome author Amy Lee.

Two women were at the conference room table waiting for me. We all gave our nice little businessperson hello's and we sat down. We smiled at each other and one of the women cleared her throat. The other fiddled with her pen and tried to offer me coffee. I felt like they were trying to tell me my dog had died or my house had burned down.

"Well," I said, trying lighten the mood. "What can I help you with?"

They looked at each other and one of them took a deep breath. "OK," she said. "I'm just going to come right out and say it. We just got put in charge of the company website and we don't know anything about websites." She glanced at the other woman again. "To be honest, we don't even know where to start."

"Yeah," I said, setting my pen down on the table. "That happens a lot."

The women grinned and the tension vanished from the room. 

We sat together and talked about what they had been tasked to do. It really wasn't really as much trouble as they thought it would be. They needed to know how to break down the care and feeding of a website into bits that they could act on. They needed to know what bits they should try to do and what bits really should be hired out. They needed to know how long things took to do and how to talk to vendors. Much beyond that, they could rely on their own business experience and knowledge of their industry to do what they needed to do. 

This didn't turn into a consulting job for me. They didn't really need a lot of help -- just a bit of background information. It put them in an odd in-between place where it's not worth their company's cost -- or the consultant's time -- to set up a full contract. They just needed a couple of these teaching sessions.

I took what I told them (and what I've told dozens of other people in the same situation) and wrote it down: Excuse Me? I'm Doing What Now? The Office Worker's Guide to Managing A Website For Those Who Just Got Stuck With It. 

One of the first things you need to to when you get handed a website is to figure out just what you'll be expected to do. Then you need to figure out how you'll do it.

The following is an excerpt from the book. If you'd like to read more, the book is being posted on a blog for free at The Quiet One (one chapter at a time), with print and e-book copies in the works. 

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What does a “web manager” actually do?

The answer to this question will depend a bit on your situation. In an ideal world, a web manager should:

  • Communicate with and teach in-house clients.
  • Manage expectations up, down, and sideways.
  • Come up with and manage the strategic plan for the website.
  • Come up with and oversee scheduling.
  • Schedule (and possibly create) editorial and graphical content updates.
  • Manage a budget.
  • Assess and prioritize new ideas/opportunities that pop up through the year so that they align with your organization's priorities.
  • Maintain focus on key goals of the site throughout the year (shield the site and your team from distractions).
  • Manage the process and ensure the best possible coverage of the site.
  • Oversee and maintain ongoing documentation to ensure that knowledge remains with the corporation and doesn’t disappear as people come and go. Since people coming and going is just a part of life, you might as well plan for it.

There are several likely scenarios for your current situation, but they all pretty much boil down the following:

  1. You are doing this with full-time help (Manager mode).
  2. You are doing with ad-hoc help (volunteers) (Politician mode).
  3. You are doing this all by yourself (Superhero mode).

The Manager mode

This is a classic business model that most people are pretty comfortable with. You have supervisory authority over a group of people who are performing specific tasks toward specific performance goals. They are motivated to cooperate with you by the desire for a paycheck. That said, there are aspects of managing the smart, creative personalities that best support websites that might be a little different for you. As a manager you may be able to avoid most of the hands-on work on the site, but you’ll still need to make broad-based decisions and keep people focused on the strategic goals. You’ll need to know enough about the technology and about how people use your organization’s website to be sensitive to how changes in editorial style or visual design will impact your audience (and your goals).

If your site is run from a CMS (content management system), get yourself trained on the system. Even if you can’t do every trick, make sure you have a good overview of how things work in your head. You’ll need an idea of what the system can and cannot do when someone stops you in the bathroom and wants to talk to you: “I’ve got this idea for the website....”

Key Tasks for the Manager

Since the Manager has people who can focus on things like keeping the website running and updating content, his or her top four things move more into communication and supervision:

  1. Communicate with and teach in-house clients.
  2. Manage expectations up, down, and sideways.
  3. Manage scheduling and budget.
  4. Maintain focus on key goals of the site throughout the year (shield the site and your team from distractions).

These four things are the most critical, but the other aspects of website management need to get fit in as well.

The Politician mode 

I’m going to take a rare, positive view of politicians here. Many of them are actually trying to make the world a better place by inspiring, charming, or cajoling people to work (usually without reward) for the greater good. They have to do this without any kind of direct authority over the people they are working with.

If you are going into Politician mode, you are still ahead of the Superhero. You actually have help. The catch is that you don’t have much (or any) authority over those helping you, which makes your management tasks a lot trickier. You need to push people to stay on task and on schedule, but if you push too hard they’ll stop working for you. Pushing too little gets you a team that is working when, and on, whatever they feel like.

This is a tough role to just step into if you don’t have some experience (or natural ability) doing it. You need to be confident from the get-go in order to successfully pull off what might seem like an overwhelming task. If you aren’t sure if you can do this, consider pulling back into being a Superhero or asking for more clear supervisory authority. Temps (over which you’d have clear and specific authority) are often not that expensive and will set you comfortably into the Manager mode.

Key Tasks for the Politician

As the Politician, you’ve got help but it might not always be there. Your focus has to be on continuity.

  1. Keep the website running and up-to-date from a content perspective
  2. Manage the process and ensure the best coverage possible for the site
  3. Assess and prioritize new ideas/opportunities through the year

The Superhero mode

Once you get past the muscles, Spandex, and ticker-tape parades, you get see the real nuts-and-bolts of a superhero’s life.

The good stuff…

  • You have something that your colleagues don’t have (in your case, control of what goes on the website and where). That is often a source of political power in an organization.
  • When you do something really great, you get all of the glory.
  • Superheroes are highly valued by their communities (i.e., organizations) and those communities will work to keep their superhero around.

…and the not-so-good stuff.

  • There always seems to be someone trying to make a mess of what you just cleaned up.
  • When something goes wrong, you get every call. Superheroes don’t get vacations.
  • When you screw up, there is no one else to blame.
  • Beyond a trusted sidekick or two, you really don’t have anyone else to help you out.

If you are walking into Superhero mode, you need to focus on containment. You need to control the scope of your tasks and responsibilities. Don’t underestimate that last bullet under “the good stuff.” If you are the only person who is running the website and there really isn’t anyone else to do it, it is in the best interests of the organization (and your colleagues) to keep you working on it. If you are having problems, ask for help. Don’t be whiney, but do say something. You might not get exactly what you ask for, but I guarantee that you will get listened to.

You’ll be juggling a lot of different tasks and responsibilities. You need to make sure have a set base of responsibilities that you are sure you can achieve. If you are still feeling ambitious, then build from there.

Even a movie Superhero can’t be everywhere and do everything all the time. Most bosses will understand and respect you for setting these expectations. If you burn out or decide that you can’t do this work, the website becomes your boss’ problem again. It is in his or her best interest to make sure you succeed at this.

Key Tasks for the Superhero

You are doing this on your own, so let go of anything you don’t have to do. Focus on the basics.

  1. Keeping the website running and up-to-date from a content perspective
  2. Assess and prioritize new ideas/opportunities through the year
  3. Communicate with and teach staff about the website

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Interested in more? The book is being put up on a blog for free at The Quiet One -- if you are patient enough to wait for the twice weekly posts and scroll through the book chapters in reverse order. There is a printed and ebook copy in the works. Information about the books will be posted on the blog when they are ready.